In fashion designer Eileen Fisher’s world, 1,000 people are capable of making a difference. And when she says people, she means her employees — a team committed to social consciousness that has served as a sounding board for many of the leading brand’s sustainability initiatives in recent years.
Armed with a commitment to gather consensus from employees and inspire leadership practices, Eileen Fisher has curated a culture that allows employees to be leaders of change both internally and within the brand's work in society at large.
Hiring policies hold significant weight as the brand continues to pursue activities that incorporate stronger sustainability practices and charitable partnership programming. In 2012 upon receiving an Apparel Sustainability All-Star Award, Shona Quinn, Eileen Fisher’s sustainability leader, mentioned that the company has an effective sustainability program as a result of employees with strong social values who are predisposed to consider the environment.
The range of employee contributions to the company’s sustainability strategy is voluminous. Prime example: An employee request to eliminate the use of plastic resulted in an 80 percent reduction of plastic hangers used in stores.
The casual-wear brand has led the charge toward transparency and sustainability in the fashion industry for years. The company has used natural fibers and eco-friendly fabrics for over a decade, and the materials are a hit with its 33- to 50-year-old female target consumers. Bucking sweatshop labor practices and other common fashion industry snafus, Fisher's legacy is rooted in her commitment to ethical and responsible business practices that treat employees as owners and the planet as a shareholder.
At one point Fisher contemplated taking the company public, but she ultimately decided to keep things simple and focus on getting the product right while offering an employee stock program that breeds inclusivity.
"My employees run the business, and they deserve to own it. We've done profit sharing for years, and it makes people feel really connected," she shared with Inc. in 2010. "It's not us and them. It's us."
Fisher’s commitment to sustainability spans a portfolio of enviable initiatives. For example, the Green Eileen brand launched in 2009 allows customers to return their outgrown and gently-worn Eileen Fisher clothing to the store for credit and an opportunity to support programs that empower women and girls. Green Eileen recycling stores in New York and Seattle have collectively re-sold more than 160,000 garments to date, raising up to $2.2 million and diverting textiles from landfills.
In 2009, Eileen Fisher became the first American member of the Blue Sign Technologies network, which is working closely with the company to establish a sustainable textile production system to using less dye, chemicals and water to produce their China silks. By 2015, the Eileen Fisher brand plans to produce 50 percent of its products using Blue Sign's eco-solution system. The company ultimately plans to make 100 percent of its clothing sustainable by 2020.
Upon celebrating 30 years in business, and over $360 million in revenue in 2013, Fisher has no plans to slow down but instead has her sights set on sketching out goals, with the help of her employees, for the next 30 years.
“These days I'm focused on the concept of good growth. I constantly ask myself and my employees, "How do we grow in ways that are sustainable, and ways we can be proud of?" -- Fisher writes on Inc.
Image credit: Eileen Fisher Facebook
Sherrell Dorsey is social impact branding and communications strategist, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Visit Sherrell at www.sherrelldosey.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @sherrell_dorsey.
Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology, and digital inclusion.